Two employees of Sunwing Airlines at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport have been charged with trying to import cocaine into Canada. The pair was swept up as part of an RCMP drug bust in Southwestern Ontario.
“The RCMP wishes to thank Sunwing Airlines for their assistance during this investigation,” said RCMP Chief Superintendent Michael LeSage at a news conference Friday. “Sunwing’s commitment to safety and security was evident and their cooperation was instrumental in bringing this investigation to a successful conclusion.”
Undercover officers bought nine kilograms of fentanyl during their operation, which culminated in raids this week in a handful of cities. Fentanyl is a top law enforcement priority because of its potency and potentially deadly effects, even in small quantities.
In all, police seized street drugs worth up to $10 million in Toronto, Hamilton and other nearby cities. The drugs include cocaine, heroin, marijuana and fentanyl. Authorities also seized cash and vehicles in the raids.
The RCMP said the Canadian Border Services Agency helped in the bust, as well as RCMP liaison in Jamaica. Sunwing flies non-stop from Toronto to Kingston five times a week in the summer.
Importing drugs through airports has been an ongoing problem in the country, particularly at Pearson, which is among the most internationally connected airports on the continent. In 2017, two border guards were arrested and accused of importing cocaine through Pearson.
In this case, Andrej Marek Krawczyk and Gianni Ballestrin face charges of conspiracy and attempting to import cocaine into Canada, among other accusations. Nine other people face drug trafficking charges in connection with the same police operation.
Across Canada, police recorded 560 incidents of trying to import or export cocaine across the border in 2018, according to data compiled by Statistics Canada. The number of incidents was up almost 85% from the previous year. Forty-six people were charged with importation offences, though Statistics Canada reports at the same time that 80 other people were cleared.
People convicted of importing cocaine into Canada can face a maximum sentence of life imprisonment, with a minimum one year sentence if, “the person had access to an area that is restricted to authorized persons and used that access to commit the offence,” such as an airport tarmac.